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Free «Balzac and the Little Seamstress» Essay Sample

The Storyline of the Movie Balzac and the Little Seamstress

The movie Balzac and the Little Seamstress tells about the life path of the two city boys at the late stage after the Chinese Cultural Revolution. At the beginning of the movie, the boys Luo and Ma arrive in the Phoenix Mountain’s village after two days of climbing. The villagers are the revolutionary peasants, who do not know how to read or write and make their daily agenda according to rise and set of the sun. Luo and Ma have to adjust to the hard schedule carrying heavy baskets of human waste and working in the underground mine.

One day, an old tailor and his granddaughter, Little Seamstress, come to the village, and both boys fall in love with the girl. The day after their arrival, Luo and Ma notice that Luo’s clock is missing and find out that Little Seamstress took and broke it in order to understand how it works. When Luo tries to fix the clock, he finds out that Little Seamstress’ mother was a teacher, but she died too early to teach the girl reading.



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Regardless the fact that Luo and Ma leave and work under the peasants’ agenda, they are still treated as the reactionary enemies and challenged with the political issue of watching and retelling broadcasted movies of the socialist content. The boys become favorite storytellers among the villagers and seize this opportunity to replace the socialist stories with the Western capitalist concepts. When they find out that the son of other reactionary proponent has forbidden foreign books, they sneak into his room during a farewell party and steal the suitcase, which contains the translations of the capitalist and socialist novels. Ma starts reading Balzac, Gogol, Dostoevsky and other Western novelists to Little Seamstress. When the chief of the Commune Committee hears Ma telling a western novel to the tailor, he offers Luo, the son of a dentist, to treat his rotten tooth in exchange of not giving away his friend for the latter reactionary behavior. Luo, Ma and Little Seamstress tie up the chief and treat his affected tooth with a needle of the tailor’s sewing machine. After the successful treatment of the chief’s tooth, Luo becomes a local celebrity among the villagers, who pay food and household items for his dental services.

Luo builds romantic relationships with Little Seamstress, but he receives a notice that he has to return to the city for two months in order to visit his sick father. While Luo is absent, Ma reads to Little Seamstress and helps her around the house. Eventually, the girl confesses that she is pregnant from Luo, and Ma makes a bargain with gynecologist to perform an abortion. Gynecologist performs a secret abortion in the village while Ma plays the violin outside in order to distract passers. When Luo returns, everything goes back to usual life.

Afterward, Ma leaves the village and becomes a violinist in the Paris orchestra while Luo becomes a professor at the dentist institute in Shanghai. After twenty seven years, Ma returns to the Phoenix Mountain because the government decides to submerge the area in order to provide electricity for two hundred people. Ma does not find Little Seamstress but meats Luo, his wife, and son in Shanghai. The two friends watch the video, which Ma made in the village. Luo recalls his failed attempts to find Little Seamstress in Shenzhen and Hong Kong. He also remembers how she decided to leave the village for a better life claiming that Balzac changed her. The movie ends with the village submerging in the water.

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Sociological Concepts and Ideas of the Chinese Cultural Revolution Portrayed in the Movie

The movie portrays the dynamics of Maoism and its influencing pattern on the China’s political social order at the late stage of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In the movie, Mao’s personality cult is represented by the communist propaganda songs, which ennoble his greatness. The movie shows the direction of the “capitalist road”, which the skeptical and ignorant nation has chosen. The Chinese accept the ideas and examples of their fellow socialist countries such as USSR and Albania but disapprove views of the capitalist Western countries. Customs and habits of people are based on the hard work of peasants and the system of ownership in the society. The educational system is changed in the content of the behavior transformation, which is aimed to get people used to the difficult collective labor on the peasant land that was turned over to the landlord ownership later. The leadership ruling pattern seems to be extremely important for the nation. In the movie, when the commune committee’s chief had been injured in the caved mine, the village was in chaos over a period of his recovery. 

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Furthermore, the movie portrays the nation’s illiteracy and unconsciousness, even in the radical ways of the self-medication. While Luo was treated with sagebrush from malaria, the locals argued that there were other therapeutic agents such as sophora and willow branch. Moreover, the movie touches such social issues as women’s reproductive rights. Little Seamstress could not openly apply for the emergency abortion. It depends on the Chinese restrictive laws, which forbid this medical intervention for women until twenty five years and without a marriage certificate. 

In addition, the movie portrays the confrontation between the revolutionary and reactionary movements. As a top leader, the chief of the rural area threatened Ma with arbitrary imprisonment accusing him of taking the “capitalist road” while the latter promoted ideas were taken from the Western culture. Moreover, the Western concept’s embargo demolished the youth ignorance of outside cultures. Regardless the fact that the society has dramatically changed with the Red Groups movement, the nation is still eagerly looking for a change. Even these displaced like Four-Eyes, who accepted the order of the ruling Communist Party and willingly passed re-education, suspect that forbidden translations of Western writers may bring the ideas that will eliminate their illiteracy. Furthermore, the boys took advantage of the villagers’ lack of education and transformed socialist propaganda movies into the capitalist storylines using the places and characters from Western novels. In addition, Ma and Luo succeed in inspiring Little Seamstress’ grandfather with the novel of Duma, and the tailor created women cloths with the sailor’s pattern designs.

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Finally, Luo detects Little Seamstress’ ignorance and lack of education but losses her for these ideas. As the boys tried to extirpate from the place, they were forced to move. In the end, they regret that the area is obliterated the same way as the Western cultural artifacts have been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.


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